The marine leisure industry is in crisis mode at the moment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. I believe current world events will be the catalyst to a sweeping industry change. There’s a lot of negative news currently, so I think for the sake of our sanity it’s worth looking to the future, which I believe will be a much rosier place.
So far, the marine leisure industry has been slow to act when it comes to going electric. I believe the shockwave going through the leisure and tourism sector at the moment will help kickstart a green revolution that will allow us to catch up with the automotive market, which has been leaps ahead of us until now.
Over the past few years, electric vehicles (EVs) have gone from futuristic fantasy to an inevitability. In the UK, the government recently announced that they will bring forward plans to ban sales of petrol vehicles by 2035. Along with the EU rollout of EV charging points, it is clear that we are transitioning to an electric world. In fact, research by McKinsey found that the EV market has been growing at 60% year-on-year!
When we look at the marine industry, however, electric boats and other marine vehicles are rarely even discussed. Yet, marine pollution is a serious issue and still affects us on land. Large ships, such as cargo vessels, tend to use bunker fuel ‒ a cheap yet incredibly dirty fuel full of sulphur and nitrogen oxides.
Worldwide, shipping accounts for 13% of annual sulphur oxide emissions, 15% of global NOx emissions, and 3% of CO2 emissions. Despite environmental regulations due to come into effect later this year that limit sulphur in shipping fuel, it will still contain 500 times more than road diesel.
The growing ubiquity of EVs
One of the reasons for the lack of development within the marine vehicle industry is that the problem isn’t as visible. As such, tackling it isn’t seen to be quite as sexy.
In the automotive world, EVs began with Tesla releasing their electric Roadster in 2008. A sleek, stylish and expensive vehicle that helped position EVs as a luxury aspiration, not a boring utilitarian eco-device.
Around the same time, Formula 1 manufacturers began developing technology for use in races. Soon, the Formula E started, showcasing the most exciting developments in EV technology. It was seen as sexy, cool and cutting-edge.
Now that Tesla has secured the top end of the market, they have turned their sights to the bottom end: freight trucks. The company is aiming to develop a fleet of self-driving electric lorries for long-distance logistics. This will clean up both the mass market of long-haul lorries as well as the niche luxury market. The middle of the market (i.e. the rest of us) will be taken along for the ride, buying more moderately priced EVs, and making EVs ubiquitous.
What’s more, the hard part of EV development is complete. Making efficient electric engines is now a known science and there is an established supply chain. If you wanted, you could order various parts today and make your own EV next week to a completely novel design. Unfortunately, the marine industry is about five to ten years behind.
The trouble over water
Another reason the marine industry has been slow to adapt is the sheer power required to move things across bodies of water. Comparatively, moving things by road is much easier. Friction works in your favour, buoyancy isn’t an issue, and we have neatly paved roads to drive down.
Moving things by water requires a lot more torque and thus a lot more power. Seawater is also a rather harsh environment for moving parts and electrics to operate in.
We ran into these problems when looking for a suitable motor for our electric jet boards ‒ a kind of bodyboard that powers you across the water. To make the motors safe to swim and roll around in the water with, we needed them to be completely enclosed, yet almost all marine engines are designed to work with an open propeller.
Developing new EV technology for marine vehicles
A part of the answer lay with underwater Seascooters. These vehicles had engines that were totally enclosed so that they could safely propel individuals underwater. As such, the research had already been done on how to enclose water propulsion.
We then applied this design thinking to an electric motor designed to travel over the surface of the water. Yet, at every stage, we found we needed to design and develop novel parts to meet our propulsion criteria. From the propeller design to the motor casing and insides, we decided to build our own motors to achieve what we needed.
Ultimately, through hundreds of prototypes and tests, we ended up developing an entirely new system altogether, using the latest in Lithium-ion battery technology to deliver high power and torque, whilst keeping weight down.
Developing the engineering science for a new category of marine vehicle is a slow, painstaking process. However, we hope to have paved the way for new variants of electric marine vehicles to be developed in the near future, potentially transforming the industry in its entirety. I can easily imagine a fleet of autonomous electric-powered transport ships moving things around the world effortlessly and with very little pollution.
The tipping point
I believe that the automotive industry has already reached a tipping point. The market is demanding more electric vehicles, governments are legislating in their favour, the technology and science are known, the parts are readily available, and the supply chain has been established. Equally, I believe the coronavirus will act as a catalyst for even faster change. People have seen what impact we can make by changing our habits, and changing them is not as difficult as we’ve been led to believe.
For any car manufacturer, not to be developing an EV would, at this point, be madness.
The marine industry is quite far behind, with only a few new manufacturers, such as Asap Water Crafts, even contemplating electric power. However, I believe that the industry will now quickly start to catch up as consumers demand more green options. Watersport enthusiasts, boat owners, and anyone else who enjoys the sea will surely want to see cleaner, less polluted waters, and this is a key benefit of electric motors. You only need to look at the fish and dolphins returning to the canals of Venice to see what this future could look like.
We’ve just recently hit our target on our Crowdcube equity crowdfunding campaign, which is evidence to support my belief. While the rest of the marine and travel industry is seeing significant losses, we’re presenting an option that’s prepared for the future, which investors like. Anyone interested can still invest until Friday 3rd April.
My hope is that the rise of exciting new categories of electric watercraft will both inspire other manufacturers as well as create an economic case for developing the engineering science, rapidly growing the sector over the next few years. With the way the world is moving, it seems only a matter of time until all vehicles are electric and I’m excited to be a part of that change.